18 October, 2010

Black Walnuts for Brown Dye

Got to see someone dye yarn with a natural black walnut dye.  She steeped the entire walnuts, husks and all, in a copper pot over a wood fire.  The walnuts are removed with a strainer spoon and the yarn or wool is added.

The colour was pale brown.  To intensify the colour, she will add more walnuts.  She will keep the dye bath for as long as five years, by skimming the mould, adding more walnuts, and reheating.

The copper pot leaches metal into the water.  It acts as a mordant to set the colour and give it a slight green tinge.

I mentioned the tiny bag of black walnut dye powder I saw selling for a large price at the fiber festival.  The dyer laughed and said you never need to buy that unless you have no walnut trees.

Sorry the photo is sideways.  Also sorry I didn't get a picture of the walnuts.  They looked whole; that is, the husks had not split the way walnut husks do when the nut is ready to be gathered for food.  They looked dark and wizened not bright green like I'm used to finding walnuts.  I couldn't tell if that was because they'd been boiled in the dye bath, or because they'd been on the ground long enough to shrivel up, or because black walnuts look different from English walnuts.

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